This post was originally published on smh.com.au
Australian businesses that allow staff to use Uber instead of taxis risk heavy penalties under work safety laws, experts warn, as job-related travel with the ride-sharing service soars internationally.
UberX, an app-based network in which drivers use their private vehicles as hire cars, has faced sustained attack from Australian state governments and the taxi lobby.
Now, workplace lawyers are voicing major concerns about employers that permit staff use of the controversial service because it could breach their duty of care.
Law firm Holding Redlich said UberX’s popularity was booming in Australia but it should be banned by employers because the service was unlicensed and unregulated and there were no in-car surveillance cameras, used in taxis, to deter assaults.
“The UberX service is unregulated,” said Joel Zyngier, a senior associate in workplace relations. “A driver of an UberX service in Melbourne can be approved as a driver after undergoing a 30-minute induction and providing Uber with a driver’s licence, birth certificate and current insurance policy.”
Mr Zyngier said that while UberX may be a safe travel option, an employer’s duty of care required it to ensure staff used the safest option available, “so far as is reasonably practical”. Failure to do so could expose employers to penalties and prosecution under workplace health and safety laws.
“Although UberX drivers may indeed provide a safe service, it appears objectively an employer could not say UberX is as safe as a taxi,” he said.
Uber has strongly defended the safety of its ride-sharing service in response to the warning to Australian employers.
“All Uber driver-partners have cleared criminal history and driving history background checks, and all UberX trips are fully insured and backed by $US5 million of contingent liability cover,” a company spokeswoman said.
“In addition, the safety features of the app mean that the anonymity that exists with taxi trips is removed … The rider has the driver’s name, photograph, registration plate and car model before they enter the vehicle and can watch the car arrive at their pick-up location, so there is no standing out on the street trying to hail an anonymous ride.”
The spokeswoman said thousands of Australian workers were choosing the ride-sharing service to “travel safely while making huge savings for their companies”.
The calls for employment travel policies to restrict the service follow the release of statistics showing business travellers are increasingly bypassing taxi-rank queues in favour of UberX. Data from US expense-management company Certify shows 47 per cent of road travel by its users in March were through Uber, a figure that has tripled in 12 months.
In some cities, Uber’s popularity has shot well ahead of taxis for work-related travel. More than 70 per cent of rides processed through Certify in San Francisco were for Uber, while fewer than 30 per cent used taxis.
Victorian Taxi Services Commissioner Graeme Samuel is charging a dozen UberX drivers for operating a commercial passenger vehicle without a licence in a test case on the legality of the service. Mr Samuel has previously said attempts to penalise UberX are pointless because the service is popular with the public.